Wednesday, August 2, 2017

To Laugh or Not to Laugh: That Is the Question

I used to read humor every chance I got--Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry, in particular. I loved the belly laughs, the ways they expressed themselves, and the unforeseen twists in the stories they told.

Then I stopped. Not because I didn't still love humor, but because I started to write it. Maybe that's a mistake. I guess time will tell. I realized after I started to write that while I'd been learning from the masters all the while I read them (and I'll always be grateful for what they taught me), I didn't want to emulate them. I wanted my humor to be strictly my own and not something I borrowed from someone else. That might be misconception on my part. Maybe we can't "copy" humor; maybe funny is funny, and there's no way we can help ourselves from duplicating humor. After all, it's been said that, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV) (That comes from a darned reliable reference book too!)

Here's a little known aquatic creature known around these parts as the "Loch Ness Monster 2.0. The Alaska Version." People have been sighting this aberration for ... well, at least one day, I guess. Not really. That's a couple of swans in varying stages of head dunking. See what I mean? I could so easily have plagiarized that famous Scottish monster by simply adding 2.0 and taking all the credit myself. Shame on me, and shame on that ridiculous pair of swans. They don't look Scottish at all.
So why do I think it's okay for mystery writers to read mysteries, romance writers to read romance, etc., yet I hesitate to read humor? After all, while I consider my work to be humorous/inspirational, my books often contain a mystery. Am I not fearful of copying some other author's mystery? Nope. For one thing, I'd have to be pretty doggoned dense to copy a mystery and not realize it. There are so many facets of a mystery that to copy it would be plagiarism, not emulation. There are so many different things to consider in a mystery--the protagonist, antagonist, setting, circumstances, body count, etc.--that coming up with something different isn't difficult. That's not to say that someone hasn't taken an existing mystery, switched up a couple of things, and called it their own. I don't agree with that, but I suppose it's been done.

But copying someone else's humor is akin to stealing their mannerisms, speech patterns, thought processes. I don't mean it's more grievous to steal humor than it is to steal other types of writing, but it's a noticeable theft. A humorist (or any other kind of author) can write in a similar manner as another and might even be compared to one, but I think humor is as unique to a writer as his fingerprints. I want to convey humor through the lens of Deborah Dee Harper, and hope like crazy it approaches one-tenth of the laughing power of Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry.

So is it wrong for a writer to read in his or her genre? In my opinion, no. That's how we learn. We pick up, consciously or subconsciously, what works and what doesn't. We get a feel for the proper way to pace a story, how to flesh out our characters, and the art of dialogue. It's all an important part of our training, and although our learning never stops, that initial education is paramount to our success. It's just a personal choice of mine not to read humor, as much as I would love to, because I don't want my subconscious to pick up on something and lo and behold, have it appear in my next book.

How about you? Do you read in your genre? Why or why not?

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